I swear, I could never hear the sentence “Shea Patterson is the difference” again and it would be too soon. For five months, that was the talk. Michigan finally has a real quarterback. Michigan’s offense is gonna be unleashed.
Well, there are still 11 games to go, but Michigan’s offense looked pretty much like they have for Jim Harbaugh’s entire tenure, and it was Notre Dame, they of the no running backs, quarterback that can’t throw, and question marks all over the field, that controlled most of Saturday’s game. Ultimately, the Irish held on for a 24-17 victory that probably shouldn’t have been that close, and Patterson, for the 5th time in his last 11 starts (thanks for that nugget, GameDay) turned the ball over twice.
And while he’ll make his bones against better offenses on the schedule, defensive coordinator Clark Lea showed that there’s no reason to fret about the departure of Mike Elko. Notre Dame’s gonna be just fine.
“Michigan cannot handle the front seven of Notre Dame”
Outside of the stars-aligning 2012 season, when was the last time you heard an analyst say the above about a top-20 ND opponent? Doug Flutie’s early second-half quote struck me as absolutely remarkable. And it was true. (It was so true, I won’t even trash Flutie for, a half hour or so earlier, chastising Michigan for not taking a knee when they were at the 1 1/2 yard line to end the first half.) Despite dealing with cramps that sent half the ND defense off the field at some time or another, Khalid Kareem, Jerry Tillery and company spent a good portion of the game in Michigan’s backfield. The Irish have long lacked the kind of defensive line that can be a true difference-maker in a game like tonight’s, and there’s no question that this evening, the defensive line had as much to do with ND’s victory as any position group.
It was extremely fitting, then, that a defense that was leaned on very heavily late in the game came up huge for the clinching play, stripping Patterson and recovering the fumble to lock up the W.
It’s weird that I’m saying all of this when Michigan outgained the Irish (by five, but still), but I’m more than willing to chalk some of that up to ND’s defense tiring due to being on the field the bulk of the second half in hot, humid conditions.
Side note: Alohi Gilman is great. It’s a good thing the NCAA couldn’t find some way to delay his eligibility any longer.
Brandon Wimbush is OK, and that’s fine
I admit, I was a bit of a pessimist coming into this season (I may or may not have predicted 8-4 in our 18S staff pool), and the biggest reason why was we didn’t know if our quarterback was actually any good. I worried something had broken in Wimbush last November, and nothing Brian Kelly said over the last eight months did a lot to assuage me.
Well, this evening, he was not perfect. He still missed a couple of reasonably easy throws, he threw a pretty bad interception, and his zone-read decisions weren’t always on the money. But considering he was facing a Michigan defensive front that was almost living in his face through most of the game (let’s hope that said more about the Wolverines than our front five), he also made some remarkable plays. Plays he didn’t make against Georgia a season ago.
And between his handful of mistakes, there was some brilliance. His 3rd-and-long throw to Alize Mack – which I already suspect will be a very overlooked play in this game – was spectacular and turned what was looking like a potential disaster into a 7-play, 96-yard touchdown drive. Which was capped by his dangerous-but-successful jump ball to Chris Finke (of all the receivers, of course it’s the skinny little white dude who makes the first 50/50 grab of the season) for ND’s second touchdown. His 3rd-and-18 QB draw for a first down in the third quarter turned another near-disaster into 3 massive points for the Irish. And he showed very, very good pocket presence against a constant rush. There were warts – there will always be warts – but this was a QB that knew what he was doing and didn’t let the moment get too big. And ND doesn’t need much more than that right now.
Running back is also going to be fine
Ok, Notre Dame’s running game wasn’t great tonight. It wasn’t even good, averaging about 3 yards per carry. But Tony Jones and Jafar Armstrong both did enough, and we’re not facing Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich anymore. Plus, this is probably the worst the offensive line will be all season. Everyone’s just going to get better, we assume. And Dexter Williams will be back at the end of September to beef things up. We’ll be ok. I promise.
(I really want Jafar to emerge as the standout back. I want to make stupid Aladdin jokes like “Genie! For my second wish, I want to score 2 touchdowns against Michigan!” every time he does something good. C’mon, universe. I don’t ask for much.)
The only thing I’m legit sad about is Michigan didn’t extend their streak of not scoring an offensive TD at ND to 8 years. That’s a bummer.
But we’re 1-0, kids. And there’s no reason whatsoever we shouldn’t be 4-0 going into the Stanford game. Sit back and let’s enjoy the ride.